Ubi Caritas: Soul Music


Several years ago, I visited John (not his real name), who was in his tumultuous final days of hospice. He verbally abused the nurses and tussled with those who were trying to help him. John’s uncontrolled outbursts multiplied the grief his family was already enduring. When “helper medications” failed, the doctor suggested intermittent extreme sedation.


Even as I softly read scripture and prayed at John’s bedside, he continued to fidget and voice his displeasure with his predicament. The choices facing the family were all difficult and contrary to their love for John. But what should they do?


As I left the room, a nurse asked to speak with me for a moment. In the hallway, she explained that she really cared for John and felt that the use of extreme sedation might well end most communication in his last days of life.


She told me that at one time she had been the hospice nurse for an elderly Catholic priest. She said that in the priest’s room, the other priests had played a mixture of hymns and recorded Georgian chants, and that it had a calming effect on the dying priest. She said that one song in particular became everyone’s favorite, including her.


After research into her suggestion, I obtained the music and gave it to the family as a suggestion before they proceeded with the more potent medicine. They discussed it with the doctor who agreed to use less medicine and give the music time to take effect. It worked!


The favored song that the nurse mentioned is titled in Latin, “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.” In English it is translated “where there is love and kindness God is there.” Musicologists believe this song may well have been written around 300 AD! Another chant that was associated with “Ubi Caritas” was “Agnus Dei (Lamb of God)”, which was introduced to the church in the mid 600’s AD. Some of the words of Ubi Caritas are:


Where charity and love are, there God is.

The love of Christ has gathered us into one.

Let us exult, and in Him be joyful.

Let us fear and let us love the living God.

And from a sincere heart let us love each other (and Him).

Where charity and love are, there God is.


“Ubi Caritas” is often sung during Passion Week on Maundy Thursday in association with the story where Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. It is based in 1 John 4:16 KJV, “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.”


The powerful message to the hospice patient and the grieving family is that they are not alone in that room. God is there. He sees their acts of love, and partners with them through the precious Holy Spirit to comfort and console.


Ubi Caritas can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxP3uYptW-c


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